halsey, charli xcx, and fka twigs talk about TikTok pressure
The discourse is back, baby!
image @halsey on TikTok
words Louis Staples
TikTok is strange: if you’re great at it, that’s really cool. But if you’re bad at it? Well, that’s mortifying. And if you’re bad at it and over 30? Flush your phone down the toilet. Now.
There has been a lot of debate recently about how TikTok has changed the music industry since it became a huge cultural phenomenon, with over 1bn global users.
Some of these changes have been iconic cultural resets: can you imagine a world without Lil Nas X lap-dancing the devil? Or Olivia Rodrigo’s sad girl bops? (I still can’t drive, but ‘Drivers License’ still hits different). A fortnight ago, the UK almost won Eurovision with a song by TikTok star Sam Ryder, which once seemed unimaginable.
But there’s also downsides: songs seem to have become shorter and shorter. And it sometimes feels like record labels care more about being “big on TikTok” than anything else, which isn’t always great for music.
This debate has been reignited by Halsey
The Grammy award-winning musician joined the growing number of artists who have publicly claimed their record labels are pushing them into posting content on TikTok. Ironically, Halsey waded into the topic… on TikTok. They claimed their label is holding off on releasing new music until they score a "fake a viral moment” on the platform.
“Basically, I have a song that I love that I want to release ASAP, but my record label won't let me," read a caption on the video, as the unreleased track in question appeared to play in the background.
They continued: “I've been in this industry for eight years and I've sold over 165 million records and my record company is saying I can't release it unless they can fake a viral moment on TikTok.”
“Everything is marketing and they do this to basically every artist these days. I just wanna release music man. And I deserve better tbh. I'm tired.”
The video clocked up almost 8 million views in less than 24 hours. So it looks like Halsey got their viral moment after all.
After this, Halsey shared another video which appeared to be taken of a conversation with a music executive. A person off-camera was heard strategizing on the release of the track via TikTok, while Halsey looked… less than pleased, saying: “I just hate this.”
But Halsey isn’t alone
As it so often does, this conversation overflowed from TikTok to Twitter, where the discourse cranked up a notch. One disgruntled fan shared screenshots of videos from Charli XCX, Florence Welch and FKA twigs. All of the women suggested that their labels were pressuring them to post TikTok videos. (Won’t somebody please think of the rich musicians?)
Captioning the screenshots, the Twitter user wrote: “what tiktok has done to the music industry is upsetting like...”
They went on: “it's not just about promo i actually hate it more when you can tell when artists are forced to make ‘tiktok friendly songs.’ labels rely too much on this app hoping for it to do wonders rather than do actual promos... [I guess] it's okay if artists wanna do it and if it's organic.”
“like they just trying to do what others do to go viral and purposely shortening the length of songs... it's so annoying when it's affecting the quality of music. that's the most disappointing.”
Lots of people began to share different perspectives on record labels being so obsessed with TikTok
Responding to the tweet, singer-songwriter Vérité said that “having to fake viral moments to release art is an entire new level of soul sucking.”
However, pop culture writer and critic Shamira Ibrahim pointed out that it’s smaller artists who don’t have such a huge platform who will be more affected by the trend towards TikTok virality. So, basically, people like Halsey need to check their privilege! How zeitgeisty.
Ibrahim pointed to a similar video by Ed Sheeran, who was also complaining about having to promote his work on TikTok too. She questioned whether people seriously believe huge artists like him can’t release music when they want to. “This is a gambit,” she said. (Although, given what we know about music industry misogyny, perhaps there is a gendered element at play here?)
Taylor Lorenz, internet columnist at the Washington Post, also wondered whether, actually, this was all just a ploy to go viral. Are we being had?
Set-up or not, other users questioned whether having to promote your music was really such a terrible thing. After all, artists have been doing this for decades, it’s just that TikTok is a new platform.
But Halsey then clarified their comments, saying it was more about a lack of clarity from their label and that they weren’t claiming to be oppressed. (Phew, glad we cleared that one up).
Ultimately, the music industry’s obsession with TikTok feels like record labels reacting to having even less control in the digital age. It’s not necessarily a bad thing for them to encourage artists to connect with their audiences, but maybe there needs to be more flexibility, because TikTok doesn’t work for everyone. And it’s pretty grim if artists really are being stopped from releasing music by a lack of viral TikTok moments. Just drop the bops, already!
In a statement released to news outlets, a spokesperson for Capitol Music Group, Halsey’s label, responded: “Our belief in Halsey as a singular and important artist is total and unwavering. We can't wait for the world to hear their brilliant new music,” they said.
Eek, let’s hope Halsey didn’t get into too much trouble.